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Attia Taylor: From Inconvenience to Independence.

September 13, 2012

Philly musician Attia Taylor was forced to take the stage alone at SXSW. She conquered her fears, had fun and learned about herself along the way. Here, she writes about her experiences.

Ever since I started writing and singing, I just knew I would need someone to help me out and back me up. A part of being a solo artist is trusting yourself. I never truly trusted myself until I had to.

This year I was asked to play a few shows at South by Southwest. I asked my five piece band to travel along but they couldn’t go.

I was afraid. It was always my dream to hop on stage and create a full and luxurious sound by myself because that would be the moment I knew that I had complete control over my music. This “inconvenience” was the time for that because I was not turning this opportunity down.

Music is in my blood. It became an obvious variable a long time ago. My fascination with sound started with the use of Styrofoam plates and cups to make shakers and drums when I was very young. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so I always had to be resourceful. When I got to high school, I became jealous seeing independent female musicians because, for some reason, I thought there couldn’t be too many if there would be room for me. I kept asking myself, “How come they get to be that confident?”

 

To give you a good idea of my musical past and love for sound, I used to adore hip-hop. This was ’90s hip-hop. My grandmother bought my sister and I a Biggie Smalls CD after we begged and begged her for almost a week. I was also a fan of anything poppy and colorful. Somewhere along the way, I ruined my Fisher-Price cassette player listening to the soundtrack to Beauty and The Beast on repeat. I have remained somewhat consistent and keep all of this in mind when I’m working on my music now. I always need a chilled out, down-tempo beat and a flute or keyboard to wrap around it and charm it up.

When I started planning for my performance in Austin, just the thought of being alone on stage and making all of those ideas come to life seemed extremely daunting. The best thing I could do was suck it up and make it work. At the time, I was living in a tiny apartment with my family and there was virtually no space to practice. Not to mention, I was in the middle of a 16-credit semester at Temple and working. I was calling it South By South Stress because I had no instruments, no space and no idea how I was going to turn songs that I had already worked on for two years with a band into songs that I would play live, alone, halfway across the country in just a month.

The first thing I bought was a set of brand new speakers. I had no one to listen so I had to videotape my set over and over and critique it. I figured my laptop would be a good idea to use because it’s what I use to make music in the first place. I bought a 25-key midi-controller to make travel lighter.

Then, I got what I have wanted for the past 2 years – a  Boss vocal loop pedal (I swear I kissed the package when it arrived). There was something special about hearing my voice six times at once and looping words like “wild forest” that still makes me so content. I used sound clips of French people speaking on a train during my trip to Boston, employee training videos I found online, strange British cartoons and anything else that seemed interesting. I wanted every odd sound in my set. I love the feeling of taking things that aren’t traditional or safe and making them catchy. I even decided to loop a slide whistle for a circus of strange sounds. I had so much fun with the production that I forgot that I had to pack it up and take a three-hour flight in a week.

I went over my set vigorously, practicing every morning and every night. I made tons of new songs, worked on older songs, and recreated my entire sound.

Here I was, finally solo, being that woman I always wanted to be and navigating the world of electronics. In high school, I wanted to be this “woman who made music.” I wanted to figure out how everything worked. I wanted to navigate sounds on my own. I listened to Frou Frou and The Bird and The Bee and completely fell in love with their ability to make music that caught my attention and wasn’t cliche or cheesy.

Through the force of nature, everything worked seamlessly. If I could do it all over again, I would have given myself a little more time but I’m glad I was forced to seize the day. I am much more confident now than I have ever been about my abilities.

I had no idea that I was capable of manipulating my own sounds live. Even though my old neighbors hate me now, I’m sure, I created a set full of plush, whimsical songs, learned how to be truly independent on stage and I got to play at SXSW, for crying out loud.

Attia Taylor is an East Falls native and an alumna of Girard College, Temple University and Girls Rock Philly. She co-founded Lady.Bang.Beat., a blog that champions the efforts of female musicians.

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